Are You a Veteran with Parkinson’s? There’s Help!
US military Veterans with Parkinson’s disease (PD) have access to specialized medical care and financial assistance through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). In some cases, Veterans’ PD may be related to their service. Veterans and their families can get help with applying for care and benefits from Veterans Service Officers and other resources.
Service-related risks: Agent Orange and others
Some conditions, including PD, may be traced back to Veterans’ service through exposures to chemicals or through injuries.
Agent Orange, a chemical plant killer used during the Vietnam War, has been linked to PD. Veterans may have been exposed to Agent Orange if they served in Vietnam, in the Korean Demilitarized Zone, or on Air Force bases in Thailand. Veterans who flew on or worked on C-123 Aircraft may also have been exposed.1
Veterans with PD who were exposed to Agent Orange may be eligible for healthcare, disability benefits, and a free Agent Orange Registry health exam. You do not need to prove that the PD was directly caused by Agent Orange exposure. For details, visit the VA public health webpage on Agent Orange.
Contaminated water at Marine Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina has also been linked to PD.2 The VA public health webpage on Camp Lejeune lists details on eligibility for disability benefits, including family member care costs.
Other military injuries and exposures may be related to PD, including traumatic brain injury (TBI). These links are still being studied, though, and you may need to show a connection between PD and the service record to be eligible for benefits.3
Healthcare and caregiving services
Veterans with PD have access to a number of VA specialty clinics and medical centers. However, to use them, you must first enroll in the VA’s healthcare system.
To sign up for VA healthcare, you can:
- Go to the VA’s Health Benefits website
- Call 1-877-222-VETS (8387) (hours: Mon-Fri, 8:00 am-8:00 pm EST)
- Call or meet with a Veterans Service Officer (see below)
Specialized PD medical care
The VA offers 2 options for specialized PD medical care: PADRECCs and Consortium Centers.
- PADRECC stands for “Parkinson’s Disease Research, Education, and Clinical Center.” These Centers of Excellence carry out patient care, research, and clinical trials. There are 6 of these facilities in the US.
- Consortium Centers are an alternative if you can’t access a PADRECC. These are VA clinics that provide specialized care for PD.
The VA website lists all PADRECCs and Consortium Centers. To use them, you must be enrolled in the VA healthcare system and have a referral from your VA primary care provider or neurologist. For help or questions, call the VA’s PADRECC/Consortium Hotline: 1-800-949-1001 x5769.
VA Health Benefits also offers caregiving resources for Veterans and their families, including:
- Respite care (for when caregivers need to take a break)
- Adult day health care
- Long-term care in a Veterans facility or a Medical Foster Home (a private home with trained caregiver services)
The VA’s webpage on Geriatrics and Extended Care lists the resources available and information about applying.
In addition to healthcare, the VA can also provide financial help to Veterans with PD and their families through extra pension money and benefits.
Pension extras: Aid and Attendance (A&A) and Housebound
If you receive a military pension and have PD, you may be able to receive extra pension money. Check the VA’s pension website if you are unsure whether you’re eligible for a military pension.
The 2 types of extra payment are Aid and Attendance (A&A) and Housebound. You can receive one or the other, but not both at the same time.
- Aid & Attendance (A&A): Available if you need assistance with daily living activities (such as getting dressed), if you are bedridden, if you are in a nursing home, or if you have limited vision (a corrected 5/200 visual acuity or less in both eyes or concentric contraction of the visual field to 5 degrees or less)
- Housebound: Available if a permanent disability keeps you essentially limited to one place
These extra payments count toward your pension eligibility. If you aren’t eligible for pension because of higher income levels, these payments may push you over the cutoff rate and make you eligible after all.
Visit the VA’s A&A and Housebound Pension webpage for full details and instructions for applying.
Benefits: Disability compensation
Veterans with PD may be able to receive a disability benefit, which is a monthly tax-free payment. The amount may vary if you have dependents or if you receive other military payments. See the VA’s disability compensation webpage for information.
Benefits: Special claims
The VA also offers benefits for special events or situations, such as:
- A one-time allowance to buy a car that can accommodate a disability
- An annual clothing allowance for those with prosthetics, a wheelchair, or certain other medical conditions
- Temporary 100% disability compensation for hospitalization, recovering from surgery, or unemployment
- Post-discharge assistance for Veterans in need
Visit the VA’s Special Claims webpage for all possible benefits and their full details.
Questions and getting help
If you need help filling out forms or just figuring out where to start, you have several resources available.
Each US state has a Veterans Service Officer (VSO) who can help you apply for benefits and find out what you are eligible for. There is no fee for working with them. Many counties, cities, and towns also have their own VSOs.
To find your nearest VSO, use the National Association of County Veteran Service Officers’ county/state directory. You can also call your city or town hall.
Veterans’ organizations may also offer help, even if you are not one of their members. See what services are possible through these groups:
- Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) – VA Claims and Separation Benefits
- Disabled American Veterans (DAV) – Find Your Local Office
- American Legion – Find a Service Officer
Caregivers for Veterans also have access to help. The VA’s Caregiver Support website offers a variety of tools and information. Their search form will find your nearest Caregiver Support Coordinator, who can personally help you with care resources. Or, you can call the VA’s Caregiver Support Line at 1-855-260-3274.
- Parkinson’s Disease and Agent Orange. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: Public Health. https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/conditions/parkinsonsdisease.asp. Updated May 4, 2016. Accessed October 4, 2017.
- Camp Lejeune: Past Water Contamination. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: Public Health. https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/camp-lejeune/index.asp. Updated May 16, 2017. Accessed October 4, 2017.
- Agent Orange & Other Toxic Exposures. https://www.parkinsons.va.gov/Consortium/Pt%20Edu%20Brochures/2017_PtEdBrochure_AgentOrange_Houston.pdf. Updated May 2017. Accessed October 4, 2017.